About Paradise Parrots and Other Australian Legends of Place and Identity, i.m. G.B. (1940-2003)
Seven cities once disputed Homer's birthplace. As many regions have claimed parrots as their own. While Romans drew talking parakeets from India's dawnlands, Tang courtesans obtained them from Paradise. The home of Guacamayo, the great American Parrot-Trickster is Guatemala or thereabouts - although the claim of the Brazilian Bororos to be parrots and the name Parrotland (bestowed on Brazil by macaw-struck conquistadors) argue a different origin. Further south a medieval Arabic periplum plumps for Java, on the grounds Javanese parrots spoke every language. Furthest south, Gerard Mercator's world map of 1569 discovers a Psitacorum regio on the coasts of an immense Antarctica-like blankness (collectively denominated Terra Australis Nondum Cognita). The point of these parrot tales is that geographers and historians, who identify Mercator's region of parrots with Australia, fail to see what kind of genealogy they establish. To surmise that Portuguese mariners were the first Europeans to chance upon Australia and discover its parrots is not to backdate Australia's colonial and natural history. It is to suggest an entirely different legend of Australian place and identity.
The official legend defines Australian identity environmentally. In The Australian Legend (1958), historian Russel Ward argued that the Australian ethos - egalitarian, collectivist, anti-authoritarian and practical - had its origins in the response of convicts and bush people to 'frontier' conditions. Even as an explanation of mystique, rather than historical facts, this involves a paradox. It would be better to say that Australian white settlerdom discovered its collective identity in clearing the land. Instead of being absorbed into the national psyche, the Australian 'wilderness' induced environmental agoraphobia. Flying over the interior today, one sees the result: in redeeming their Christian pledge to make a garden of it, Australians are well on the way to fulfilling another utopian fantasy. Hadn't French fabulist, Gabriel de Foigny, described (in 1676), a southern land whose natural features had been rationally leveled to a regular plain, producing an interior mirroring the ideology of its people? Less complimentary than Ward, sociologist Ronald Conway (1971) found in this relentless erosion of difference a source of 'the great Australian stupor,' a condition found in vivo in the pantomimic depressiveness of the present Prime Minister's body language and delivery.
The legendary elision of 'interior' with 'frontier' may be imaginary. In the recent film Rabbit-Proof Fence Australia's greatest 'frontier,' a 1600 kilometre dingo-fence, was an Ariadne's Thread leading home rather than a barrier. But, imaginary or not, obstacles make for stories. Witness the prevalence of domestic, psychic and environmental interiors in Australian weekend journalism and lifestyle publishing, whose popularity derives from the fascinating 'frontiers' they are found to possess. The primary difficulty the interior renovator confronts is blindness. He cannot see the shape of 'comfort'. He is like an early explorer, assailed by opthalmia. The answer is: let in more light, a process which recalls the white settler's primary experience - clearing trees from his block. In tourism-promoting photo-essays, the principles of the newly-renovated domestic interior are extended to Australian landscape. Weekend cottages in semi-domesticated bushland, redolent of the picturesque suburban prospects favoured by the late nineteenth century Melbourne painters, known collectively as the Heidelberg School, suggest the triumph of Bachelardian intimacy over an Unheimlich wilderness. In times of drought, though, their artificially-bright lawns look merely uncanny. Furnished with native timbers, decorated in bush colours, they are ideal places in which to write about psychic journeys within. Here, the 'frontier' is typically the 'other', embodied in Australia's Indigenous peoples, but the structure of the tale is the same. Personal reconciliation doesn't mean giving up a national legend. It is the desert of the white settler unconscious that is colonized and made to blossom.
In the early 1990s reconciliation between Australia's Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples looked imminent. Ontologically, by admitting the existence of Aboriginal people in Australia before and after British colonization (and, consequently, the nonsense of the doctrine of terra nullius), the Mabo decision, handed down by the High Court of Australia in 1992, marked a new beginning. But it was shortlived. Australia has a habit of detaining its historical memories offshore, like refugees. The past, our present political leaders say, is another country (and someone else's responsibility). Amnesia, like Polynesia, is simply un-Australian. It's tempting to explain this terror of colonial ghosts psychologically. Analogies between psychic and national terra incognitae may, though, obscure geography's symbolic role. Historian Keith Windschuttle's recent denunciations of colonial 'massacres' as left-wing myths disclosed widely-shared anxieties about breaches of the national pleasure principle.
Yet it cannot be said that Indigenous people and their historical experience are entirely lost objects. In the print and electronic media, which, in Australia as in Europe, are, of course, the national consciousness, both are disproportionately represented. What might be claimed is that this occurs on condition that they can be classified as coming from outside. Ordinary Aboriginal people inside (in a double sense as, in proportion to their numbers in the general population, young Aboriginal males are eleven time as likely to be in prison as their white counterparts) remain largely outside the national imaginary. It is as guestworkers, roughly classifiable with migrants, that they are admitted. In this role, as self-made men and women conforming to the Australian legend, they are adopted, and, within certain popularly-endorsed limits (sports and the arts), pronounced exemplary Australians.
Terms like frontier, interior, inside and outside characterise the symbolic spaces of the nation state. Without frontiers it would be hard to start and focus wars. Without outsiders, who can count as insiders? Interiors have a double character. They are zones of exile and confinement. Either way they signify a disappearance from national consciousness. The Australian Government's recent treatment of alleged illegal immigrants was the political expression of this psycho-spatial logic. How else could it make sense to transport 'boat people' detained off the northern coasts of Australia to a 'detention centre,' sited 170 kilometres north west of Port Augusta in the South Australian 'outback.' Woomera is now associated with the British atomic tests carried out there in the early 1950s. It was originally planned, though, in 1947, as a model 'village' for 'a new-ordered way of living.' From utopia to prison camp, via a place-annihilating military experiment: what these chapters in the history of a (non-) place have in common is their association with an interior that is 'out back,' exterior to national memory.
The distinctively Australian spatial metaphor 'outback' is not a feature of the nation state's geographical unconscious. This is not surprising. Despite present appearances to the contrary, embodied in a new anxiety about borders, Australia is not a nation state. It is a federation of states and territories. Up until 1901 these components of 'Australia' were self-governing colonies owing allegiance to the British crown. Thus a cartographic time exposure focused on 'the Antipodes,' which commenced with Gerard Mercator's chart and terminated with a Landsat image of a unified land mass, would show a meteorological cycle of gathering and dispersing territorial clouds. The original 'cloud' - Mercator's Terra Australis Nondum Incognita - was a topological conundrum - an unbounded figure with an edge. The great object of white Australia's early coastal surveyors was the detachment and planar bounding of this figure. When Matthew Flinders completed the circumnavigation of the coasts, whose enclosed space he then christened Australia, he turned a 'continent' into an 'island.' But, politically at least, this moment of gathering was soon reversed. With Empedoclean thoroughness, Strife followed Love, and 'Australia' split into a jigsaw of colonies.
The detachment of these different political states was reflected in the way their common borders were drawn. Exterior borders followed the coastline; interior borders were drawn with a ruler, north-south and east-west. Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land, being an island, required no interior divisions to define it. The Victoria-New South Wales border was a partial exception, partly following the course of the River Murray. Adoption of these topographical features did not signal a Kantian optimism that societies derived their character from the genius loci. Rather, it showed that, in general, Australia lacked the administratively convenient geographical features (permanent rivers and well-defined, continuous mountain ranges) so useful in cutting up Europe. As for the straight lines drawn on the map of the interior, they represented a collective exhaustion of territorial imagination: their lack of topographical affect indicated the lack of attachment the colonists felt to these zones. The detachment of these interior divisions showed that, in the mental geography of the early white settlers, Australia was an archipelago of states, a political and cultural Gondwanaland slowly splitting apart and spreading. The 'outback' was located in the expanding space between the lines.
After the 1901 reorganisation of these local units beneath a regional federal covenant, a new psycho-spatial entity emerged. Much to the annoyance of definitely island-dwelling Tasmanians, physical geographers and political scientists have repeatedly been unable to decide whether Australia is an 'island' or a 'continent.' The hybrid of this uncertainty, 'the 'island continent' is another antipodean contribution to psycho-geography. What, exactly, does it mean to be both continuous and separate, both attached and detached? Australia is a continent that is self-sufficient; or it is an island that is not isolated. These are also classic conundrums in developmental psychology - where, exactly, to draw the line between self and other, in the process defining both and their relation. They suggest that, in the Australian imaginary, the unconscious is not a dubiously-accessible 'underworld' or 'cellar.' It is simply geography, and the emotionally-disturbing instability of its spaces. The early place-names explorers and settlers bestowed on the land attest to this. Names such as 'Plains of Promise' or 'Lake Salvator' celebrated an 'oceanic' sense of immersion or connectedness. The men who made up names like 'Mount Despair' or 'Lake Disappointment' felt, on the contrary, trapped by the immensity, and experienced what Emanuel Miller would have called 'agora-claustrophobia.'
It is notable that the Australian collective psyche lacks an underground. Given its mythic location at the antipodes, this is perhaps logical. Unless one accepts the Chinese version of creation, it can't be 'turtles all the way down.' The 'buck,' as they say in Australia, has to stop somewhere. Psychically-speaking, Australia is Freud's unconscious (which Freud himself identified with Kant's 'Thing in itself'). Post- second World War refugees migrating to Australia repeatedly said that they were motivated by a desire to escape 'history.' In this fantasy (which recapitulates white settler amnesia), Australia precedes history. Like the unconscious, it is without chronology. If Europe's mind is a neurotic dunghill of triumphs and disasters, like the hill of Troy, Australia's is infantile, as plain and sprawling as Cambrian bedrock. Coincidentally, this contrast is played out in Australian archaeology. A mode of investigation predicated on the burial of the past out of sight has no purchase on the civilization of Australia's Indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples, whose treasury of knowledge exists on the surface, in the periodic re-enactment of their environment's creative principles. When a non-British spar or anchor is exposed on an Australian beach, the tabloid newspapers and commercial documentary-makers fall upon the discovery with zeal. But their nostalgia for depth illustrates the point that, in Australia, there are no buried civilisations, and confrontation with the thing (the environment) cannot be satisfactorily sublimated.
Historically, the antipodes have been the solid foundation of European fantasy. They were, from Ptolemy forward, a necessary hypothesis if the northern hemisphere was to stay where it was. But this brings little comfort to present-day antoikoi. Importing the antipodal dream, they apply its psycho-geographical logic to their own situation. Instead of finding the mythopoetic foundations of their culture in their own spatial historical experience, they tend to think that they must lie elsewhere - further down. Australian imaginings of New Zealand and Antarctica reflect this anxiety. Regular calls to incorporate New Zealand into an expanded, conspicuously un-Asian, Australasian confederacy disguise the suspicion that, lying further south, New Zealand has found a place and identity Australians still long to reach. New Zealand, it appears from across the Tasman, has achieved the beau ideal of the white settler society. It has a treaty with its Indigenous peoples and, unlike Australia, can envisage life beyond America. The case of 'the great white continent' is subtler. Ice where Australia is sand, frozen where Australia burns, its antipodal terra nullius oddly comforts a colonising mentality, used to evaluating the world in terms of 'untapped resources.' When privatised water companies, assisted by a local media that still (after two hundred years) describes Australia's habitually low rainfall as an 'exceptional drought', flush away our last potable water as 'economically unviable,' Antarctica will come to the rescue. The 'ice, mast-high,' which Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, described, 'floating by,/ As green as emerald,' will then become a common feature in our major harbours, as icebergs are hauled upstream preparatory to being processed for human consumption.
Stockmarket analysts would be surprised to learn that Australians didn't invest in their underground. Australia may lack a positive Alps - the Australian Alps, like the Great Divide where they are located, being misnamings that attest respectively to a lack of commanding height and a desire to gain it - but its mining industries are energetically engaged in producing negative mountains. Miniaturised in the optic of the air traveler, the opencast mines of Kalgoorlie and the Kimberley (both in Western Australia) resemble the insides of concentrically-ridged oyster shells. As these giant earthforms are deepened, they produce their own negatives. Around their craters immense rectilinear platforms of dirt and rock rise. These low, brooding mesas of landscaped debris recall ancient Meso-American cities. The tenor of the public-relations discourse associated with these sites reveals that this parallel is not lost on those who built them. Unlocking nature's hidden wealth, they testify to a collective practical ingenuity. They deserve a prominent iconic status in the Australian legend. But they also serve an archaeological function, compensating Australians for the lack of a monumental antiquity mentioned before. The building statistics tour guides deploy at Teotihuacan are designed to persuade us that another race built what we see. So with the mountains of mining statistics, detailing the daily, monthly and annual volumes of rock dynamited, removed and crushed: in comparison with the giants in charge of this mineralogical Gath, we are puny. Oddly, a sense of being dwarfed is comforting. When the collective will turns the earth inside-out, it holds us in its hand. We briefly feel inside the outside of the 'outback.'
Perhaps Australia's best-known mythic interior is its 'inland sea.' Victorian explorers like Edward J. Eyre and Charles Sturt came to feel that they had been victims of a perceptual hoax. The open, gently dipping plains in the region of so-called Lake Eyre (in northern South Australia) looked like ocean shorelines. Horizons regularly sprouted promising mirages of upside-down vegetation and vaguely Moorish-looking buildings. In the end, though, lack of water and debilitating temperatures prevented these geographical seers from substantiating their dreams. Later geographers have appreciated the pathos of their misapprehensions: these colonial visionaries were close to water. It lay beneath their feet, in the vast artesian reserves which, later, enabled the pastoral industry to spread its cattle- and sheep-trail tentacles throughout the Diamantina catchment. They have also pointed out that, so far as surface water was concerned, these forerunners of the future either arrived a few million years too late or were victims of bad timing. The Eyre basin had, once upon a time, been a sea. Nowadays, significant rainfall in inland Queensland occasionally transforms Lake Eyre's shimmering saltpan into a shallow sea, stretching from horizon to horizon. The psychological outcome of these early experiences was not a sense of growing connection with the idiosyncracies of Australian hydrology, but a feeling of rebuff and betrayal. The violence - and, as it has turned out, the longterm environmental destructiveness - of the Snowy Mountains Scheme (1949-1958) embodied the view that, where the genius loci was clearly hostile to civilised settlement, it should be tamed. If a natural flood could not be guaranteed, an artificial one would be created, even if it meant reversing the flow of no less than five rivers.
The contemporary counterparts of the nineteenth century explorers are economists. Our modern astrologers, economists regard the 'marketplace' as another outback to be conquered. It's not surprising, then, that the 'boom and bust' character of Lake Eyre's occasional, and subtle, inundations are mainly of interest to speculators in agricultural stocks. Otherwise, apart from assisting the spread of noxious weeds and introduced species of vermin, the occasionally-flowing waters of the interior are a Mediterranean tourist experience for Australians whom fears of fatal respiration have discouraged from travelling over other seas. In the collective psycho-geographic imaginary, Australia resembles a giant atoll, a country in the form of a doughnut. The fact that the atoll encloses a 'red centre', rather than Pacific waters, does not diminish its utility in sustaining that double sense of connectedness and separation, on which, it seems, the legendary collective identity depends. For the Australian 'centre' is not like the American 'West'. It does not imply nearing a goal. Symmetrically-located with regard to Australia's coastlines, it suggests the illusory character of other places. The fantasy of walking across the continent, leaving one suburban backyard eventually to arrive in another, carries with it the suspicion that the exercise would be futile - for how is one to tell one coast from another? When the inland location of Australia's 'bush capital', Canberra, is invoked to prove that Australians have embraced their own environment, it must be with the doughnut fantasy in mind. The transportation systems linking Australia's State and Territory capitals run round the coast. If the ring they form were cut opposite Canberra - somewhere near Broome, say - and laid out in a straight line, then Australia's federal headquarters would indeed occupy a central place. Otherwise, it remains an eccentric geometrical landing pad, a kind of national golf course whose bunkers are tonsured hills and whose clubhouse, on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, is Aldo Giurgola's War-of-the-Worlds New Parliament House.
The eccentricity of a country whose population largely hugs the coast is rarely noted by Australian commentators. This is in contrast with the disproportionate attention given to the beach and its culture. The attempt to derive Australians' easy-going, purportedly hedonistic, lifestyle from an advertising agency collage of surfboards, surf, reclining nudes and multicoloured sunshades is not very successful. In fact, what Australia's beaches chiefly locate is the triumph of the visual image over the tactile real. The apotheosis of this, aptly-named Kodak Beach, a fully-operational artificial seaside across the Brisbane River from Brisbane's central business district, provides, as cultural historian John Macarthur notes, 'a hypervisualised environment.' It also provides a model village version of the inland sea fantasy. My point, though, is that a focus on these micro-cultural adaptations overlooks the historical oddity of a nation of coast-dwellers. One of the great 'what-ifs' of Australian history - guaranteed to revive a flagging dinner-party - is: what would 'Australia' have been, if, instead of rejecting him, La Perouse had taken the 15 year-old Napoleon on his first expedition to the great southlands? Finding his military genius under-utilised, my guess is that Bonaparte would have given full rein to his administrative talent. All roads would have radiated from an Arc de Triomphe located in the French colonial capital, Alice Springs. This is not such a stupid scenario. Most imperial adventures - Cortes most famously in marching far inland to Moctezuma's headquarters - have justified invasion by hypothesising a central 'Baghdad.' In Australia, though, it was otherwise: apart from antlike forays to inland gold fields, and the thinner lacework of sheepwalks slowly converging from all directions somewhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn, most colonists spread out along the coastal hinterlands. The psycho-geographical result is profound. In contrast with most Europeans, who live inland, and for whom (at least in the past) the coast is a kind of ultima thule, marking the furthest reach of the habitus, Australians feel their sense of place originates at the coast. It is going inland that marks an adventure away from where one lives.
It also marks an entry into the realm of misleading appearances. If plain empirical matter-of-factness clusters round the edge, surmise characterises the interior. The laconic understatement of Australian humour depends on this contrast. By itself the enormity of the lie - deserts where there should have been fertile lake districts - might have inspired a magic realist literature. But in Australia the enormity of the deception could always be kept in proportion by invoking the coastal scale of common-sense. In the headline-grabbing fancy of itinerant journalists, Australia's inland has been the province of lost children, abducted white women and a variety of beast-man hybrids, including the amphibious Bunyip and a Swiftian Yahoo. But it has also been the terrain of the itinerant worker, the Aussie battler and the jackeroo. These sub-species of the legendary Australian male carried a practical man's scepticism inland. But, in the encounter with a human and natural environment, that repeatedly disappointed expectations, they developed a defensive way of describing things. In a successful bush yarn, litotes is everything. The practical egalitarian celebrated in the Australian legend, is a born ironist. Rhetorically, as well as manually, he likes to 'cut things down to size.' The suburban inheritor of his mantle is the post-war Australian male, trapped in the dreary rituals of married life and office routine. In generations of short stories a certain wistful folk wisdom is attributed to his parodic inarticulateness. Invariably depicted leaning over the back fence, in his mind's eye he is not building castles: on the contrary, he is watching everything solid melt into air. It is the ultimate reductive triumph of commonsense, in a country where the sound and fury of a better future turn out to signify nothing, and where, in consequence, the salesman's fair-sounding eloquence is properly classified as so much 'bullshit.'
The frontier, the outback, the inland sea are mythic territories. But so is the coastal consciousness that classifies them in this way. This is the yield of studying the psycho-geography of the Australian collective unconscious, that it reveals the practical reason of the ordinary man and woman as another culturally-convenient myth. When in 1771 Sir Joseph Banks, sailing with Cook in the Endeavour, turned his telescope towards the coast, he caught sight of 'natives.' What surprised him most was that they were not surprised by his sailing ship. Indeed they didn't seem to notice it. Which was more reasonable, the behaviour of the inhabitants of the place, going about their business, or the expectations of the great botanist? Banks by name, Banks by nature, banked on stepping ashore, by this little step onto terra firma inaugurating a giant leap forward for Enlightenment science (and British mercantilism). But the 'coast' in this part of the world is not like the line on the map: it is a fractal zone of estuaries, creeks, backwaters, spits, isthmuses and promontories. Banks' firmly founded coast was the geographical counterpart of his own deductive habits, but it didn't make these reasonable. When Banks reasoned that the interior of Australia must be largely uninhabited because the economy of the Aborigines he had observed was based on fishing, he illustrated the fact that, in the mirror of reason, it wasn't nature's face that appeared, but the scientist's.
Turning to the present-day, what passes for the discourse of common-sense - although Edward Said more ominously calls it 'the language of the State Department' - mimics the appearance of rational discourse, but its foundations remain mythical. It is interesting to observe how both the Left and Right in contemporary Australian political debate continue to invoke the imagined community analysed by Ward. They may differ in details of policy and historical interpretation, but they are as one in finding powerful and moving the story of a continent tamed by hard work and ingenuity. They joust, rather than fight, not least because they both respect 'a facility to battle through' and both share 'a loveable tendency to larrikinism.' In defence of the medieval romance of the Australian legend, they energetically and ritually tilt at windmills. The impression of a mimic battle, performed with cardboard weapons, is especially strong if you are one of the one-third of Australians who were born overseas, for whom those touchstones of Australian identity, Gallipoli and Don Bradman mean nothing. These weekly and quarterly campaigns are couched in the language of common sense. The ground they occupy is mythical. But the consequences of their mimic warfare are real and exclusionary. Their appeal to the Australian legend means, in effect, that those who arrived too late to have a role in shaping the legend can have no agency in shaping Australia's future. In the wake of the release of the popularly-known 'Stolen Generations' report in 1997, the present Prime Minister, John Howard, gave this logic an ingenious twist. He explained that it would be inappropriate of his government to apologise to Australian Aborigines for the social and cultural catastrophe, which the biological assimilation policies pursued by earlier Australian governments had caused, because it represented not only Anglo-Celtic Australians but also those citizens of non-English-speaking background, 'who had no personal responsibility for the past policies of Aboriginal child removal.' As a courtesy to recent migrants, we should forget the past. This recognition was, of course, strategic. The condition of incorporation into the Australian legend remained the same: a voluntary amnesia.
Not the smallest triumph of the Australian legend is its depoliticisation of arguments like these. In this regard, the present electoral popularity enjoyed by the John Howard, suggests the resurfacing of deep-rooted white settler anxieties. When the ALP (Australian Labour Party) under Paul Keating lost the 1996 election, some saw this merely as a temporary setback to a social and constitutional reform agenda whose momentum was irresistible. In the event they were proved wrong: multiculturalism, Indigenous land rights, reconciliation, Australia 'in Asia,' the republic - one by one these initiatives to redefine Australian place and identity have been rejected. Why should this be? The popular success of Mr Howard is, as I've already suggested, a matter of style rather than substance. Like other populist politicians - notably the former Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and the former leader of the One Nation party, Pauline Hanson - the Prime Minister's utterances appear to be unscripted. He could, but wouldn't, say with Beckett, that the meaning is between the phrases. The presiding rhetorical trope is anacoluthon, a hesitant stringing together of platitudes, whose effect is chiefly to communicate a reluctance to say anything. The pure orality of the discourse, unscripted and resistant to paraphrase, infuriates his critics. Yet, in not putting into words what the average Australian cannot say, he effectively taps into his constituency's mimetic desire. He channels a psychological identification which transcends political differences. This egalitarian discourse of hesitations does not represent a democratic collectivity. Mimicking a legendary image of Australian identity, it's a triumph of ideology. In particular, it illustrates how effectively the Australian legend of plain-speaking represses its true nature. The genius of the collectivist, anti-authoritarian, practical Australian Prime Minister is to parrot a people's fears and insecurities, and, parroting them back, to make them feel comfortable in their awkwardness.
In Latin America, a family of cultures altogether more attuned to parrots (human and avian), the political trickster who has presided over the making of Australian place and identity would long ago have been recognised. As the fifteenth century English poet John Skelton wrote, the parrot is the master of plain-speak - 'of that supposicyon that called is arte … Parrot nothing hath surmysed,/ No matter pretendyd, nor nothing enterprysed.' The parrot is the avatar of the 'tall poppy syndrome,' that pleasure in 'cutting down to size' whatever smacks of pretension. Pretending nothing, the parrot detects pretentiousness in others. Lacking artifice, he exposes it everywhere. Surmising nothing, he makes speculation of every kind - including discussion of Australia's past and future place and identity - seem absurd. As I say, it is a tribute to the power which the Australian legend retains over political discourse, that its apologists fail to see its anti-democratic implications. The Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe gets the point, though. In 'Puck Disembarks,' he imagines the unofficial spirit (a Shakespearean version of Pan) disembarking with the official party at Sydney in 1788. Puck's task is to institute the Australian legend, 'To rewrite Empire as larrikin culture.' But, with the raucous, mocking cries of the cockatoo in mind, he knows already, that 'This is the paradise of Schadenfreude.'
The parrot presides over the semblance of reason. Imitating reason, he seems to speak reasonably. In fact, his utterances satirise reason. They expose the mythological prejudices and ideological self-interest underlying the simplest statements. The utopias which classical, medieval, Renaissance and later authors have plausibly located in the realm of terra australis nondum cognita illustrate this. The pseudo-reasonable surmises of Sir Joseph Banks and the parrot-talk of populist politicians employ the same deductive logic found in Sir Thomas More, Jonathan Swift and Gabrielle de Foigny. The result is a kind of science fiction. In the realm of spatial history it produces the psycho-geography I've discussed, with its host of hoax features. An 1830 map of Australia prepared by a certain A.J. Maslen, who signed himself 'The Friend of Australia,' although he had never visited the place, featured an Amazon-like river flowing north-west through the Australian interior. Collecting ample waters from the Great Stony, Tanami and Gibson Deserts to the south (where, in Maslen's imagination, a series of conveniently parallel mountain ranges were to be found), his so-called Great River of the Desired Blessing emptied itself into the Indian Ocean north of present-day Broome. This was pure geographical fantasy, but it was a fiction only one degree removed from the longed-for rivers, lakes and mountains which early explorers deduced from appearances, and tentatively marked on their charts.
A striking instance of parrot reason occurs rather literally in the journals of Charles Sturt. Rumours of an inland sea had circulated ever since Flinders' circumnavigation had failed to find any major river mouths. In 1830 Sturt boated down the placidly-flowing Murray, but this river hardly breached the coast, emptying (another austral paradox) into a lake behind the coastline. As Maslen's river was a fiction, the solution to the question of Australia's internal drainage seemed to be an inland sea. The idea that Australia might be like a doughnut, with a sea for a hole, stimulated its own utopian fictions. Flinders himself floated the idea that the centre might be occupied by an unknown, pile-village-dwelling civilization. Others, remembering villages of this kind throughout the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos, suggested that, when this lost people was found, they would speak Malay. When William Light, South Australia's first surveyor-general, responsible for Adelaide's town plan, made contact with the Kaurna people, whose land he was genially subdividing and planting with ideal villages, he was convinced he heard Malay phrases in their dialect. In any case, Sturt was determined to base his argument for the existence of an inland sea on more solidly-empirical grounds. The interior was the region of rumour, hearsay and deception: Sturt, starting from the coast, wanted coastal reason to guide his steps. So he looked to parrots. On an earlier expedition, he had noticed on the Darling in New South Wales cockatoos, parrots and parakeets migrating north-west. He had since noticed on the coast near Adelaide budgerigahs migrating south. He took a ruler and, projecting the lines of flight respectively north-west and north, found they met somewhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The 'feathered races' would not flock there, Sturt reasoned, unless there was water - why not look for the inland sea there?
In any culture less beguiled by the authority of common sense, Sturt's reasoning would have become the stuff of popular legend. The question would have been, not the relatively dry one of whether or not Sturt's reasoning from the facts held water (in fact, up to thirty per cent of Australian species of bird are 'nomadic,' making guesses about migration routes next to impossible), but when our romantic explorer first read the adventures of Don Quixote. This question isn't rhetorical, motivated by Australian Schadenfreude, a desire to cut 'tall poppies' down to size. Sturt's capacity to invent geographical fictions makes him a true author of Australian place and identity. He deserves this status, not because of his geographical discoveries, but because of his geographical hoaxes. It was his contribution to the mythopoetic invention of Australia that mattered. The makers of spatial history - the unfinished collective experience of self-placing and self-naming - which, I would argue, better accounts for the character of Australian place and identity than the 'Australian legend' - weren't 'magical' geographers. They were mythopoetic engineers, undertaking (with the aid of parrots) the invention of places made after the story. After all, John Skelton's unpretentious parrot doesn't speak the language of univocal reason: he communicates by way of 'metaphora, alegoria withall.'
Australian place and identity are constructed mimetically. The attitudes and behaviour of the larrikin-type exemplify this. This legendary figure goes through the motion of reasonable speech and action. But his pretence to be without pretence is Parmenidean. Identifying artifice with change, his rhetorical delaying tactics seek to prove that movement is illusory. Historical amnesia is counterpointed by an indisposition to plan for the future. Either way, a collective will to eliminate all historical forces tending to change produces a parrot-history, in which media and the politicians are condemned to repeat their ideological myths. Recently, Australians debated amendments to the Australian constitution, which would, if adopted, sever ties with the British crown. It was no accident that this debate coincided with another, about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Nor was it any coincidence that both symbolic initiatives for change failed. Inhabitants of the Australian legend have little choice but to repeat the Oedipal double-bind coeval with the colony's beginnings. As vigorously as they assert their anti-authoritarian rejection of Britain, they must go on seeking its approval. Impatient republicans pointed out that the British (and, for that matter, the Queen) were indifferent to the result. But this misses the point. Britain, like Cathay, was a rhetorical stratagem - Columbus intended extending imperial power by pretending to preserve the status quo. Exclaiming 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' Australian monarchists also displayed their capacity to battle through. But here the analogy breaks down: Columbus found America; some Australians have still to find Amnesia.
In 1943 the Sydney poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart forwarded the poems of 'Ern Malley' to the magazine Angry Penguins. The magazine's editors were delighted. Here, it seemed, in the last poetic testimony of a hitherto unknown bush poet, was solid evidence that aesthetic radicalism could emerge organically from Australian soil. If the practical reason of the 'old' Australian legend found its artistic expression in social realism, the 'new' Australian legend, Modernist, internationalist and adventurous would be embodied in the 'impeccably Surrealist techniques' of Ern's poems. A special issue of Angry Penguins was devoted to the discovery, and the Sydney 'classicists', McAuley and Stewart, closed in for the kill, announcing that 'Ern' and his oeuvre were a hoax they had contrived over one idle weekend. The 'affair' was a classic example of Australian Schadenfreude. McAuley and Stewart no doubt considered it a harmless-enough exercise in literary 'larrikinism.' The very angry Angry Penguins called it 'cultural hooliganism. Either way, the effect was to cut down a cultural tall poppy, and to restore the anti-Modernist status quo. But the affair did not end there. It turned out that the parrot was more creative than its masters. The poems McAuley and Stewart wrote in the name of Ern Malley proved to be more interesting than anything written under their own names. In parodying the internationalist pretensions of the Melbourne poets, McAuley and Stewart created the most impressive poems of that generation. Nor did the story end there. In time a casually-improvised hoax was elevated to the status of a myth. In 1952, survivors of the original debacle started publishing Ern Malley Journal. As it was explained, in the ideologically-related manifesto prepared for the Antipodean exhibition of 1959, 'in the growth and transformation of its myths a society achieves its own sense of identity.'
The Ern Malley episode is an allegory about the cultural mechanisms of identity formation in Australia. Excavating the Australian legend, it turns out to be hoaxes all the way down. After all, the mythic character on whom Ern was supposed to be based was not an 'organic' collective creation. The egalitarian larrikin of the 1890s was an invention of metropolitan journalists. As a genuine bush poet, John Shaw Neilson, remarked, 'this tiresome man/ With his shrewd, sable billy-can/ And his unwashed Democracy' was 'A rare old Humbug all the time.' In the absence of myths hoaxes have acted in Australia like additional electrons, supplying the rogue energy needed to produce a creative change of state. According to Don Watson, historian, political commentator and speechwriter for the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, 'The Australian story does not work any more … a point has been reached where the words "fair go", "Gallipoli" and "show me a better country if you don't like this one" just don't do the job.' But the evidence is that they never did. Australia has always contained 'multitudes that the legend cannot accommodate.' Creativity comes into play in periods of crisis, or cultural transition, when the literal accounts of legends can no longer be accepted. Recognising the legend doesn't work any more doesn't mean submitting to the inevitable Americanisation of Australian culture. It's an opportunity for intelligent mimicry in the style of Ern Malley. Recalling Australia's origins in Mercator's geographical myth, it's a chance for Australians to become what they always were, a region of parrots.
As a province of Australian psycho-geography, Regio psittacorum exhibits interesting features. Of more than sixty species of parrot found there only a handful have entered the national imaginary. The budgerigar and the smaller parrots have been successfully tamed, multiplied and exported, warbling legends of a sunburnt country in millions of post-war north European domestic interiors. His talking abilities assure the sulphur-crested cockatoo a successful TV career. Otherwise these raucous, rainbow-coloured indigenes are poorly represented in white dreamings. Poets have generally focused on invisible, imaginary or extinct parrots, associating them with a better country than this one. Even good poet naturalists, like John Shaw Neilson, imagine they migrate from other worlds whether from the underground, like the Regent Parrot ('Gently they say he is not of the Earth,/ He only falls below'), or from Heaven, like the eponymous Paradise Parrot. In everyday rural life, the fate of parrots has been altogether more prosaic. Regarded as a pest, threatening wheatfield and orchard, they have been used for free shooting practice. The Galah has passed into the vernacular as a type of stupidity. In the Australian Regio psittacorum it seems that an egalitarian aesthetic rules: the exotic brilliance of the parrots causes suspicion, and a desire to sap them of their creative energy. Even the exquisitely-plumaged (and probably extinct) Paradise Parrot suffers this fate: it has recently been suggested that he never existed. The exceptional hybrid of two relatively common species, the Paradise Parrot, like the better country he came from, was, from the beginning, another hoax.
Like sacred texts, the neglect of parrots can be interpreted at various levels. Literally, it suggests the enduring influence of dialectical mythology in Australian dreams of place and identity. Characterised as the antipodes of reason, Australia is perceived, not merely as nondum cognita, but as unknowable. A Pataphysical empire, it obstructs every attempt to predicts its moods. This is a persistent strand in nationalist thinking. Lamenting the environmental Endgame now being played out in Australia, William Lines recognises that it has its origins in the antipodal trope. Authors, critics and historians such as Patrick White, Alan Moorehead and Manning Clark 'subscribe to a mythic geographical determinism. The spiritual darkness they detect at the heart of Australian civilisation they claim emanates from the land itself - a continent of primeval cruelty sustained by omnipotent sunlight and a dry interior.' Allegorically, the marginal role of parrots play in Australian legends of place and identity points to a creative self-censoring, obvious in Australian publishing and film-making. In these fields hyperbole and tautology fuse, as each new 'great Australian' film or book meets this definition precisely because it remains generically conventional. Novel subject-matter is represented on condition it performs well inside the conventional cages of the mainstream novel, feature or documentary. Here, of course, the parrot can speak on condition he doesn't mention the word 'Freedom.' At a spiritual level, the imaginative confinement of parrots to the edge of the white Australian clearing has a clear significance. It refers to the consistent refusal to open a dialogue with Australia's Indigenous peoples.
A consistent symptom of Australians' geographical anxiety has been the neurotic desire to turn inside out. In recent weeks the imminent 'closing' of the 'mouth' of the Murray River has made national headlines. It has been compared to a person gasping for breath, as significant coastal ecosystems will come under threat. Up to ninety per cent of the river's natural flow is used for irrigation, mainly in New South Wales. Another factor contributing to the crisis is the 'drought.' Discovering an ecological conscience, the South Australian Premier has authorised a $A2 million dredging project, designed to keep the mouth 'open.' Now, as the 'crisis' is an old one, repeated every time a drought further depletes an already chronically-depleted flow, it's clear that political and media interest in the story reflect something else, the sense that a key site in the geographical imaginary is under threat. In the absence of the River of the Desired Blessing, the Murray is the single medium through which communication is effected between the inside and the outside. As a matter of fact, this is scarcely true: the Murray's openings (it is polyvocally evasive, rather than single-mindedly progressive) are so ill-defined that Flinders (who was looking for any sign of a way in) missed them. For his part, Sturt, approaching from the other side, failed to find a way out, and had to retreat upriver. Despite these local facts, the closing of the Murray's mouth is felt as a mythic rebuff. If the core of the Australian legend is a 'can do' ability to 'open up' the land, then the discovery of forces hostile to this inside one's own country is calculated to engender collective panic. This explains the interest of journalists and politicians, neither of whom normally has any interest in the environment: parasites on public anxiety, they sense in this event an opportunity to exploit. After all, the vision of an environmental incubus squatting heavily on the breast of Progress is enough to frighten anyone.
The desire to turn inside out has defined the white treatment of Australia's Indigenous peoples. As I said earlier, Aboriginal people are granted access to an Australian place and identity on condition they can be imagined as coming from outside. What is unbearable is the prospect of nurturing an alien people within the collective bosom. Although in the early decades of colonization Aboriginal guides were instrumental in showing graziers ways in land, the consistent impulse of white racial policy has been outwards. 'Lost' tribes are brought 'out' of the desert; in 1830 Governor Arthur's notorious 'Line,' a moving frontier of armed white men, was intended to 'clear out' the last surviving Tasmanian Aborigines. The principle of evacuation has applied culturally as well. Nineteenth century missionaries, like their eugenicist successors implementing assimilation, thought admission to Australian society depended on a Pauline conversion, in which every trace of a former identity was erased. Language must be scratched out of memory; customary law must be laughed out of court. It was a sign of white anxiety, that the 'rational dislocation' of so many people was justified on the grounds that Aboriginal people were 'nomadic.' Having no fixed places of their own, it was argued, they had no right to stay where they were. In a further twist of racist logic: a people who shifted from place to place could be assumed to be morally shifty - another reason for disciplining them. In a Benthamite synthesis of these logical twists and turns, the reward of coming out has, as I said, been a disproportionate rate of incarceration.
One principle defined all of this activity: Indigenous people should not be allowed to stay where they were. Continuity of association with their country should be broken. It is ironic, but hardly surprising, that, under the present Native Title legislation, continuity of association is the pre-condition of a land claim. Naturally, in a culture that has spent two hundred years clearing away every vestige of former presences, this proves rather difficult. The motive of bringing Aborigines out was not gratuitous cruelty. Indigenous people were not being punished for the collective depaysement experienced by invaders half a world away from home. The production of a terra nullius - the doctrine was only promulgated some fifty years after white settlement, as pressure increased to 'open up the lands' - embodied spatial contradictions within the constitution of the white settler society. By claiming Australia on behalf of the British Crown, the colonists created an either/or state. From a democratic point of view, it was a vast reserve of public land; from a mercantilist perspective it was an equally vast wasteland. The principle invoked to reconcile these visions was that of property. Opening up the land was identified with ownership of the land. But the exclusive possession produced a contradictory result. When a rectilinear grid of fence lines unrolled across the continent, what was opened up was (from the public's point of view) closed down. This was anti-democratic, but so is the Aussie 'battler' of the Australian legend. In white settler societies, public spaces, like remnant stands of rain forest, are an affront to progress, and should be cleared away. The implication of these spatial contradictions for Indigenous peoples is plain: in a country where the creation of voids is a necessary preliminary of exclusive enclosure, people who protest they belong to the land will not have a leg to stand on, let alone a place they can call home.
Long before the arrival of the First fleet, according to William Lines, 'the Australian continent supported a life of fecundity, exuberance, drama, continuity and change.' I am not sure that the wish-fulfilling arcadia invoked in this rhetorical diorama helps incorporate Indigenous peoples into contemporary place and identity debates. It is not true that the environmental history of Australia is simply a political history. Knowing more about Indigenous land management practices changes nothing unless it is harnessed to an ideological sea-change. Alongside headlines about the closing of the Murray comes the Federal Government's Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment. It finds that no less than 2891 individual ecosystems are at risk, that native birds are in danger in 240 of the 348 sub-regions looked at, and so on. It explains that Australia's plummeting biodiversity is primarily due to land clearing. Approximately 500,000 hectares of native vegetation is removed each year. But the chief interest of these data is not the change but lack of change they indicate. There is nothing in the 2003 Assessment not already starkly reported in the 1996 State of the Environment Report and the 2001 Environment Report. What the Assessment chiefly enables us to assess is the lack of political action and an ideological inhibition to change. Land-clearance affects greenhouse emissions, land salinity and the health of a fragile water supply, but the farmers remain unmoved. Journalists may think this is due to a failure of common-sense: 'Affected farmers may resent environmentalists attempting to place limits on their freedom, but not the least thing at stake is their own livelihood.' But agriculture is a culture entire, a mode of dreaming places into being. The clearing integral to its practices is also the 'clearing' of Western knowledge in which the light of reason is cultivated.
What would it be, this 'sea-change'? It is not a second Flood. It's a mythopoetic humus always returning wherever it's been forked out. It's the dissenting noise of other voices, other versions of place and identity. It's the polyvocal discourse of the Regio psittacorum, occasionally listened to rather than abused and suppressed. It's the atmosphere of meeting places, where mimetic strategies kept open places of peacable encounter and exchange. It's the domain of intelligent mimics, manufacturers of hoaxes, which, in the absence of common ground, create somewhere new that is surprisingly old. It's the province of practical daydreamers who, noticing that the place where they are is not (and is not going to be) a tabula rasa, find the alphabet of the future in the marks that already mottle and fold the land. These parrot-tricksters may mimic the larrikin of the Australian legend, but the resemblance is superficial: emotionally open, where the other is closed, they make improvisation a creative principle, as in a game of Chinese Whispers, encouraging a communication that turns mimicry into news. In this time of dumb auguries, then, the news that the instigator, agent and director of the Western Desert Painting Movement, Geoffrey Bardon, has died is ambiguously eloquent. Bardon was a parrot who collaborated in a cultural, political and spiritual sea-change. Nurse to a different vision of Australian place and identity, his wisdom is sorely needed now. His passing, though, recalls us to the fact that myths have been overthrown, ideologies defeated, and legends transformed.
Bardon is remembered for his work at Papunya, an assimilationist settlement 250 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. Between February 1971 and July 1972, while employed there as an art teacher, he initiated a transformation in the way Aboriginal art was seen, and its social and political meaning grasped. Bardon described Papunya at that time, where 1400 Pintupi, Luritja, Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Pitjantjatjara people lived exiled from their homelands, as resembling a concentration camp. The story of 30 men from different tribal backgrounds overcame their material and spiritual degradation, working together to crystallize in Bardon's words, 'divergent, contradictory, anonymous, and ancient (yet still shared) beliefs concerning the landscape and the world in which the Aboriginal people lived,' cannot be told here. A key moment, though, centred on the painting of the Honey Ant Dreaming mural on the walls of the Papunya schoolroom. In Bardon's account it went through three distinct phases. In the first version certain motifs were used that were deemed to be secret or sacred. In the second version the murals were developed with realistic (European-style) Honey Ants and a flying bird. In the third, at Bardon's request, the Europeanised images were replaced with modified traditional Aboriginal motifs. Bardon discerned in the resulting synthetic design not only an aesthetic revolution but an equally far-reaching political statement. In a graphic representation of their homelands, and their inter-connected stories, in a design acceptable to all the tribal groups, a network of related journeys, stretching ultimately to every part of Australia was envisaged; and, in modifying it for the uninitiated, a new political and cultural confederacy had been devised. 'This was the beginning of the Western Desert painting movement when, led by Kaapa, the Aboriginal men saw themselves in their own image and before their very own eyes, and upon a European building. Truly, something strange and marvellous had begun.' After the murals were completed, Bardon recalled, 'there were enormous roars, wild acclamation and dancing, and singing, in the great camps at night, and a sense of our best affirmations coming to life.'
In the following year over one thousand paintings were produced at Papunya. Many of the artists subsequently became world-famous. Their genius is assured. But in what did the genius of the schoolteacher consist? Bardon was an intelligent mimic. From the time he copied the children drawing circles in the sand, and began improvising look-alike hoax patterns on the walls of the schoolroom, he demonstrated his desire, not to found, but to find. He did not want to be an authority figure; he wanted to be part of a future conversation, which, in the absence of a shared legend, would have to be improvised. So he play-acted, representing his creative desire without disguise: 'Often I selected a topic and asked a painter if, as a courtesy, he would tell this story for me. I would mime the bigness of the story and its power, or its quietness and special gentleness.' In these parrot mimes, nothing was 'appropriated', the 'great aphorisms of space, which the paintings so luminously set forth,' were reflected with interest. As a result, instead of being cleared, the emotional and conceptual ground between them was occupied by new forms, Schadenfreude yielding to affirmation. 'Everything in that wondrous time, if I could make it so, was heightened by a feeling of the rightness of the occasion, as in ceremonial dance, and I suppose as the men sang and talked, or I talked, a new kind of dance or song was taking place, although at the time I did not think of it as such.'
Works referred to:
Geoffrey Bardon, Papunya: A Place Made After the Story, Melbourne, forthcoming; Carmel Bird (ed), The Stolen Children and Their Stories, Sydney, 1998; Ronald Conway, The Great Australian Stupor, Melbourne, 1971; Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters; Tom Griffiths & Libby Robin (eds), Ecology & Empire, Environmental History of Settler Societies, Melbourne, 1997; Ghassan Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism, Sydney, 2003; Richard Haese, Rebels and Precursors, Ringwood, Victoria, 1981; William J. Lines, Taming the Great South Land, Sydney, 1991; John Macarthur, 'Tactile Simulations: Architecture and the image of the Public at Brisbane's Kodak Beach,' in Ruth Barcan & Ian Buchanan (eds), Imagining Australian Space (Nedlands, Western Australia, 1999); OCAL, Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, Melbourne,1986; Hetti Perkins & Hannah Fink (eds), Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Sydney, 2000; Jennifer Rutherford, The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy, Melbourne, 2000; Judith Ryan, Geoffrey Bardon, Obituary, 12 May 2003; Chris Wallace-Crabbe, 'Puck Disembarks' in For Crying Out Loud, Melbourne, 1990; Don Watson, 'Rabbit Syndrome: Australia and America,' Quarterly Essay, Melbourne, 2001.
Angry Penguins (1940-1946), a quarterly journal of literary, artistic, musical and general cultural interest; self-consciously modernist. The phrase is also applied to the artists and writers associated with the journal. (OCAL)
Antoikoi, 'dwellers opposite', a term invented by Crates of Mallos, c.150 BC.
Buck, as in 'the buck has to stop somewhere', i.e. someone has to take responsibility. From 'to pass the buck' i.e. to avoid taking responsibility.
Billy can, vessel for boiling water.
Block, a subdivision of land.
Bullshit, rubbish, nonsense.
Bush, natural vegetation; a tract of land covered in such vegetation; country which has not been settled or which resists settlement.
Bush capital, a derisive name for Canberra, the capital of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Bushland, a small tract of 'block' of bush, often adjoining suburbia.
Doughnut. Doughnuts come in various shapes. I have in mind one shaped like a bagel i.e. with a hole in the middle.
Ern Malley Hoax. The Autumn 1944 issue of Angry Penguins contained The Darkening Ecliptic, sixteen poems supposedly written by a recently deceased mechanic/insurance salesman named Ern Malley. Identifying themselves as the authors of the poems, James McAuley and Harold Stewart explained that their action stemmed from their anxiety over what they saw as 'the gradual decay of meaning and craftsmanship in poetry.' (OCAL)
'Fair go', an equal chance or reasonable opportunity.
Gallipoli, 'a word of legendary significance to Australians,' a town in Turkey, the scene of a First World War campaign in which many Australian troops lost their lives. (OCAL)
Gath, 'And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature …' II Samuel 21, 20.
Great Divide, abbreviation of Great Dividing Range.
'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' vernacular expression meaning "if it isn't broken, there is no need to mend or repair it', applied to metaphorically to the Australian constitution.
Humbug, a fraud.
Inland, similar to Outback.
Larrikin, irresponsible, mischievous youth, with a disregard for social or political conventions. Hence larrikinism.
Outback, country which is remote from a major centre of population, usually inland.
Snowy Mountains Scheme. Located in the alpine border area between New South Wales and Victoria, the scheme involved the construction of more than 150 kilometres of tunnels, eleven large and smaller dams, four hydro-electric power stations, and the diversion of 922 500 megalitres of water a year to inland areas for irrigation.
'Stolen Generations' report. More formally known as Bringing Them Home, a Report prepared by the Human Rights and Equal opportunity Commission from material gathered during the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Children from their Families.
Tall Poppy, a person who is conspicuously successful, who attracts envious notice.
Paul Carter is an artist and writer attached to The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. His publications include Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia (2002), The Lie of the Land (1996) and The Road to Botany Bay (1987). He is currently writing a book called Parrot. His artworks for public spaces include Relay (Sydney 2000 Olympics) and the recently-opened Nearamnew (Federation Square, Melbourne).